Cognitive Dissonance, BigPharma and Modern Medicine

In my weekly column, which I have been writing for Duluth’s Reader Weekly since 2009, I have written a number of essays about issues that should be of seriously concern for mental health practitioners whose practices rely heavily on the use of psychotropic drugs. Patients - and their loved ones - should also be concerned about the potential for long-term adverse effects of the brain-altering medications.

The major themes that I have dealt with in those dozen or so essays have included: 1) the known dangers of the synthetic drugs that are commonly prescribed for emotional problems; 2) the serious, often life-threatening withdrawal symptoms that can result these drugs are stopped or tapered down (thus indicating that the drugs were dependency-inducing/addicting; 3) information about brain nutrient therapy for the brain-malnourished who may also be neurologically-impaired (and hence also mentally-impaired); 4) safer, non-toxic, non-drug alternative approaches to mental ill health; 5) information about the reality of combat and non-combat-induced psychological traumas (PTSD) as causative factors in mental ill health; and 6) the large variety of symptoms of PTSD (now understood to be largely a neurological disorder and therefore not purely mental), and which is often indistinguishable from certain “mental illnesses” and thus often misdiagnosed as a “mental illness of unknown origin”.

My writings were inspired by my clinical experiences with approximately 1,200 patients over the decade before I retired from the practice of medicine; thoroughly listening to those patients, the vast majority of whom had initially, before their diagnoses, been victims of psychological, physical and/or spiritual violence, traumas that initiated their entry into America’s mental healthcare system, a system that has been almost totally dominated by the giant drug company’s quasi-scientific, frequently misleading advertising and cunning 24/7 promotion of their unaffordable and often neurotoxic drugs.

I’m just one of many whistle-blowers world-wide who are “crying in the wilderness”, going up against the overwhelmingly powerful propaganda from the 1% among us, the megacorporations who are in the game for their own profit, the profits of their shareholders and the advantage of their paid consultants (especially academic psychiatrists who often have medical journal articles ghost-written for them by BigPharma’s professional writers). Some of these pioneer whistle-blowers were listed in last week’s bibliography, and they have been raising their voices for decades before I was alerted to the problems.

The Hippocratic Oath
– has the Big Business
of medicine allowed it
to become obsolete?

I took the Hippocratic Oath (“first do no harm”) when I received my medical degree, as did Grace Jackson, Peter Breggin, Joseph Glenmullen, David Healy, and any number of courageous and altruistic whistle-blowers who have therefore regarded it as their duty to warn unsuspecting others about the hidden dangers of synthetic psychiatric drugs. These courageous psychiatrists took that oath seriously even though they were ostracized and had their careers threatened by many of their colleagues for rocking the boat. It seemed that none of their good deeds went unpunished.

Some of my essays have obviously struck a chord among the readership of this alternative newsweekly. It has been welcomed by many and viewed as threatening by others.

And that is where the concept of cognitive dissonance comes in.

Cognitive dissonance
and the drug industry

The recent letter by a group of mental health practitioners (that, I must add, was supportive of many of the accusations I have made against the psychopharmaceutical industry) unexpectedly recommended two important books that totally backed up what I have been writing about. Those books, which I heartily endorse, included fired Editor-in-Chief of the New England Journal of Medicine, Dr. Marcia Angell’s 2004 book, The Truth About Drug Companies: How They Deceive Us and What to Do About It, and investigative journalist Robert Whitaker’s Anatomy of an Epidemic. I implore concerned readers to Google these authors and check YouTube to start exploring the unwelcome truths about BigPharma and their drugs, perhaps starting with, and then expanding from this site:  HYPERLINK “” It is also suggested that readers access the vast information about alternative approaches to healthcare at   HYPERLINK “”, even considering typing in ‘gary kohls’ after accessing the site and watching some video-interviews of mine.

Cognitive dissonance is the psychological discomfort that most people experience when their deeply held beliefs are contradicted by new truths that challenge those beliefs. Since it is impossible for a thinking person to simultaneously hold two are mutually exclusive beliefs that, anxiety is usually the result.

However, cognitive dissonance, especially in people that might have been immersed from childhood in dogmatic systems, especially faith-based ones, often results in denial of the new facts and/or hostile actions against the bearer of the new information, which is then more easily ignored without carefully evaluating the new information. The hostile action against the bearer of new information is called an “ad hominem attack”. Attacking (or, figuratively speaking, “killing”) the messenger, rather than dealing with the messenger’s truth, is a commonly used tactic when the new truth can’t be refuted.

Ad hominem attacks were political tactics widely used (perhaps invented?) by Joseph Goebbels, Adolf Hitler’s Minister of Propaganda and Public Enlightenment. It seems that Goebbels classical ad hominem attacks are commonly utilized in the notoriously slanderous and libelous name-calling from right-wing talk radio hosts like Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck and many of the talking heads on FoxNews. Ad hominem attacks expose the attackers weaknesses, and they are often accompanied by blustery shouting down the opposition, which also distracts from the issue at hand.

Unfair and endlessly repeated verbal attacks against whistle-blowers (such as altruistic peacemakers, environmentalists, feminists, anti-racism/antiwar activists, etc, etc) that are trying to reveal inconvenient truths about a culture often succeed in angering-up the listener-supporters of celebrities like Limbaugh (whose devotees proudly call themselves “DittoHeads”). These blindered supporters are then distracted from hearing and being able to fairly evaluate all sides of an important issue. And therefore conclusions are drawn that then become rigid, unexamined dogmatic beliefs that make the believers in the propaganda ripe for refusing to honestly come to grips with new truths. Elections in America are deeply affected by the anti-democracy realities that involve mud-slinging and name-calling.

Cognitive dissonance can be expected to be a problem when both the prescribers and the consumers of psychotropic drugs are informed that their treatments may not be as safe or effective as initially promised.

BigPharma and many of their willing and eager partners among the numerous medical industry trade groups (like the American Psychiatric Association and the AMA, to name only two) have done cunningly effective, though very expensive, mass media work in trying to discredit alternative approaches like psychotherapy, nutritional therapy, chiropractic, naturopathy, massage therapy, acupuncture, etc, all of which are feared by BigPharma as potentially effective competitors to their highly profitable drugs.

Most whistle-blowers that I know of are simply trying to achieve a tiny bit of balance to the over-represented corporate side of these important issues. The reality is that we are in a fight-to-the-death David vs. Goliath situation, but in this version of the old Bible story, Goliath has over 99% of the money, over 99% of advertising opportunities, over 99% of the press coverage and he has the law on his side.

It is useful to recall the following truth that Bob Dylan wrote about, “money doesn’t talk, it swears (or screams)”. And BigPharma has been out-screaming, out-shouting the skeptics of BigPharma over the past two generations, especially since the previously illegal direct to consumer advertising (DTCA) was made legal in 1996 and millions of potential drug-taking “consumers” started being inundated by the absurd Madison Avenue commercials that most of us laugh at on prime-time TV. But, in corporate-controlled America, whoever pays the piper, calls the tune and if you don’t have the money, you don’t have much of a voice.

”Whoever pays the piper,
calls the tune”

When one follows the money trail, one will then have a chance to better understand politics, industry, the weapons industry, the investor class and even organized religion.. Over 90% of drug research in America, even that which is done in university settings, has been, for decades, designed, funded and reported out by the pharmaceutical industry’s multinational, multibillion dollar corporations, in whose interest it is to ensure that it gets results that proves that their product should get marketing approval by the FDA. Indeed,  both animal lab and human (clinical) trials are often corrupted so that the piper that is calling the tune is usually able to report out a couple of positive drug trials while quietly shelving a bunch of other studies that failed to show positive outcomes or showed an increased number of suicides (ex the infamous Cymbalta human trials that resulted in 5 comleted suicides in non-suicidal subjects, information that didn’t deter the FDA’s granting of marketing approval).
It is no secret that most mainstream medical and psychiatric journals are heavily subsidized by these multinational drug companies, with large amounts of advertising in them but, at the same time, virtually no space for scientists who have important contradictory reports or warnings to impart. Submissions of unwelcome research or clinical reports that go up against BigPharma’s status quo is often rejected. Could this be an example of cognitive dissonance from possibly co-opted journal editors, or is it simply an example of medicine being in bed with greedy corporations? The culprits aren’t talking (except for Dr.Angell).

The same conflicts of interest are on display at most major medical conventions and conferences. Virtually all of them are heavily subsidized by BigPharma. What physician hasn’t been appalled at the large numbers of pharmaceutical companies, with free trinkets to attract gullible visitors to their tables so that they can pitch their latest, too-expensive) wonder drugs, most of which are untested for long-term safety or effeciveness?

I have observed that such medical meetings that have significant pharmaceutical support do not invite presenters who offer non-drug, non-medical devices (and therefore less profitable) that would contradict drug and medical industry dogma. Whistle-bowers are not welcome at average medical conventions. They rain on their parade. The piper who is calling the tune is afraid of negative impacts to their profitability if alternatives to their drugs are allowed a voice.
Whatever happened to
fully informed consent?

I was taught in my medical school training at the University of Minnesota that before prescribing a medication, the physician was ethically and medico-legally obliged to fully inform the patient about the potential hazards of the drug or drugs prescribed, especially the most serious potentialities. Then the patient was to be given an opportunity to refuse or accept the prescription or procedure. Alternatives to the suggested treatment program were also to be offered.

Unfortunately, and often tragically, a physician’s obtaining fully informed consent before prescribing a drug no longer seems to be the standard of care in the Big Business of modern medicine, where high productivity, high clinic patient turnover and high income-generation is the norm, often short-changing thoroughness and high quality time spent fully informing and listening to the concerns of the patient. Stopping to fully discuss the potential dangers of medications is often replaced by the handing out of computer-generated items and a signature by the patient guaranteeing that they have been fully informed of the risks and understand the pros and cons. Corporate lawyers assure us that such short-cuts hold up in court.
I came to the sobering conclusion about the waning importance of fully informed consent after talking to thousands of potentially curable patients in my 40 years of private practice. Most of the patients that came to me, especially in my holistic mental health practice, came to see me because they knew that they were both addicted to and sickened by their drugs (way too often involving combinations of two or more psych drugs, the combination of which, by the way, had never been tested for safety or efficacy even in the animal labs).

Most of my patients had tried but couldn’t get off their drugs without having terrible withdrawal symptoms (always involving totally new symptoms that hadn’t been there prior to starting the drug, no matter what the diagnosis had been). I saw hundreds of patients in my holistic practice who were totally unaware that their drug could cause permanent tardive dyskinesia, tardive dementia, brain damage, permanent drug-induced disability, temporary or permanent sexual dysfunction, violence, suicidality, Parkinsonism, depression, mania, psychotic reactions, shrinkage of the brain, diabetes, obesity, insomnia, hypercholesterolemia, loss of IQ points, loss of memory, etc, etc, all of which were known and/or mentioned in the Physician’s Desk Reference.

It is important to point out that the above short list of serious and even life-threatening adverse effects have been documented again and again in the medical literature (especially the medical literature that hasn’t been subsidized by the drug industry. Most importantly, most of my patients had not been informed that they could become dependent on (addicted to) those substances.

Obtaining fully informed consent for drug prescribing is a time-consuming problem in modern medicine, and it always has been. But, given the thousands of drugs today, the 3,600 virtually unreadable fine print pages in the PDR and the indecipherable complexities of the millions of potential combinations of two or more drugs ingested by a patient, the problem is far worse today than when I was prescribing drugs, the toxic nature of which I was totally unaware. Knowing what I know now, I shudder to think of the harm that my choices in prescribing did to my unsuspecting patients in decades past.

I consider it my duty to continue to warn others of such risks.